Richie McCaw, Jorg Neumann discuss 'amazing' New Zealand update for Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator's latest update makes a virtual flight around New zealand more realistic than ever before.

World Update XII: New Zealand is a free download for anyone who owns the game and features a remodelled in-flight view of Aotearoa with much, much more detail added to seven cities, nine airports and 62 points of interest, which include places like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Church of Good Shepherd and Hole in the Rock.

Among the first in the world to play the update was All Blacks great and real life pilot Richie McCaw.

"Flying around New Zealand virtually, I'm seeing places that I've never actually seen in person," McCaw told Newshub.

"To be able to do that, to fly 90 Mile Beach and to other places, it makes you feel proud of the country you've got. I think for anyone overseas who flies around New Zealand virtually, it would probably encourage them to come here to see it and do it for real. That's what I think is pretty cool about it."

The new level of photo realism for Aotearoa was achieved using a combination of satellite imagery, aerial photography and digital elevation models (DEM).

At an event in Auckland to celebrate the update's launch, Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann said his team worked with the New Zealand Government along with companies like NZA Simulations and Orbx to produce the new level of photo-realism.

It's something he's been imagining for years. 

"I actually visited New Zealand in 2015, saw the beauty of the country and I wanted to tell everybody about it. They said 'show us!', so I showed them pictures and realised those don't do it justice, so that actually inspired Microsoft Flight Simulator to start in the first place," Neumann told Newshub.

"I thought I'd do a digital twin of the Earth, then you can fly and check it out for yourself. Now we're finally here, seven years later."

Richie McCaw.
Richie McCaw. Photo credit: Newshub.

At the event in Auckland, McCaw demonstrated his flight skills by virtually flying around the Sky Tower and performing a roll over Eden Park before landing on the Harbour Bridge.

"I have flown over Eden Park in a helicopter [in real life] before, but not as low as I just did here! I'm not sure you'd get away with flying that low," said McCaw. 

"As an All Black, Eden Park is your favourite place we used to play. There's memories of World Cups and stuff there. So, yeah, every time you see it - whether it be virtually or real - it brings those back.

"Seeing those recognisable landmarks in places like Auckland and Christchurch [in the game], where you look at it and know exactly where you are in just a few seconds, it's amazing."

Microsoft Flight Simulator is the longest-running franchise of Microsoft's, having been launched before the likes of Windows and Office way back in 1981.

McCaw himself has been playing it for nearly 30 years.

"In the mid '90s we got our first PC at home and I remember seeing the 1995 Microsoft Flight Simulator. I wasn't really interested in gaming but that was the one thing I wanted," he said.

"So we got it and I used to spend hours and hours on it. I was interested in flying, my dad was a pilot and I was lucky enough to go flying with him, but to sit there and try and do it yourself was - well as I say, I spent hours and hours doing it."

Of course, that 1995 version is very primitive compared to the latest edition.

"The realism, the details they've gone to around how things work - it's very, very realistic. It's amazing," said McCaw.

"I was with my wife the other day flying and she goes 'what happens if something happens to you - would I be able to land this?' and I said 'probably not'. But [Microsoft Flight Simulator] is probably a good way to teach her."

Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann.
Jorg Neumann. Photo credit: Newshub.

The New Zealand update is the 12th such update for the current Microsoft Flight Simulator, which was released in 2020 and allows players to fly anywhere in the world. 

It simulates the topography of the entire planet using data from Bing Maps together with AI-generated three-dimensional representations of Earth's features.

That technology is limited, however, and many recognisable locations look bad as you get close to them as they're not represented with photo-realism. To achieve that, special hand-crafting work needs to be done and that is what is being released in the updates.

Aotearoa was said to have been requested by many, many players as an update since the game's release.

"I don't know if it's just because of Lord of the Rings, but everybody in their brain thinks New Zealand is one of the world's most beautiful places," said Neumann.

"It looked OK previously in Flight Sim, but now we've really brought it to life with seven photogrammetry cities and more that looks very accurate. There are hundreds of thousands of people who wanted New Zealand, they specifically asked for it, now they can finally do it.

"We are getting closer to recreating the most beautiful country in the world virtually. We can make it better still, but this is a great step forward and I'm so happy that everybody in the world can now see it."

Flying over Auckland CBD with the Sky Tower in view in Microsoft Flight Simulator's 12th World Update, New Zealand.
Auckland city as it looks in Microsoft Flight Simulator following World Update XII: New Zealand. Photo credit: Xbox / Asobo Studios

The update showcases Aotearoa's beauty to people around the world. But Microsoft Flight Simulator can also showcase the joy of aviation to potential pilots, young and old.

McCaw caught the bug as a teenager and following his rugby career, flying is now his profession and passion.

"The first time the flight instructor gets out and says you can go on your own, then you're in sole control of an aeroplane in the air - that feeling is amazing. It's real freedom," said McCaw.

"We always look at birds and go 'how cool would it be to be able to do that', well this is the closest thing we can get to that, to get in an aircraft and be in control of where you're going and what you're doing. Nothing beats it, I don't think."

Microsoft Flight Simulator's World Update XII: New Zealand is available now on PC and Xbox.

It features seven new cities created using high-resolution photogrammetry data and triangulated irregular network (TIN) modelling:

  • Auckland
  • Christchurch
  • Hamilton
  • Nelson
  • Queenstown
  • Tauranga
  • Wellington.

There are also nine handcrafted airports:

  • Gisborne Airport (NZGS)
  • Milford Sound Airport (NZMF)
  • Martins Bay Aerodrome (NZMJ)
  • Gorge River Airstrip (NZQE)
  • Rotorua Airport (NZRO)
  • Lake Tekapo Airport (NZTL)
  • Whangarei Airport (NZWR)
  • Westport Airport (NZWS)
  • Quintin Lodge Airstrip (T004).

The update also includes ten missions from Perfect Flight which are listed below.

Bush trips:

  • New Zealand's North Island in a Textron Aviation Beechcraft Bonanza G36
  • New Zealand's South Island in a Pilatus PC-6/B2-H4 turbo Porter G950
  • A historic recreation of the country's first air route in a Douglas DC-3.

Discovery flights:

  • Auckland, the country's largest city, in a Cessna 152
  • Queenstown in a Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter
  • Lake Benmore in a DG Aviation DG-1001E neo glider.

Landing challenges:

  • A strong wind landing at Wellington Airport (NZWN) in an Airbus A320neo
  • An epic landing at Ryan's Creek Aerodrome (NZRC) in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk
  • A technical landing at Gorge River Airstrip (NZQE) in a Zlin Aviation Savage Cub
  • A famous challenge in an Airbus A310-300 at Christchurch Airport (NZCH). 

The 62 handcrafted points of interest (POIs) are as follows:

  • Akaroa Dolphins Cruise
  • Akaroa St Patrick's Catholic Church
  • Akaroa Waterfront
  • Auckland Harbour Bridge
  • Auckland Sky Tower
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Balclutha Road Bridge
  • Beehive
  • Big Lemon and Paeroa Bottle
  • Cape Egmont Lighthouse
  • Cape Reinga Lighthouse
  • Cardrona Ski Resort
  • Castle Point Lighthouse
  • Christchurch Cathedral
  • Coronet Peak Ski Area
  • Cromwell Big Fruit Sculpture
  • Dog Island Lighthouse
  • Dunedin Law Courts
  • Dunedin Railway Station
  • Durie Hill Memorial Tower
  • Edith Cavell Bridge
  • Farewell Spit Lighthouse
  • First Church of Otago
  • Fo Guang Shan Temple
  • Forsyth Barr Stadium
  • Hell’s Gate
  • Hobbiton Village Matamata
  • Hole in the Rock
  • Hopwood Clock Tower
  • Huntly Power Station
  • Invercargill Water Tower
  • Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge
  • Kerikeri Mission Station
  • Larnach Castle
  • Majestic Centre
  • Mohaka Viaduct
  • Mount Cargill Transmitter
  • Mount John University Observatory
  • Mount Kaukau Transmitter
  • Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa
  • New Plymouth Power Station
  • New Zealand Parliament Library
  • New Zealand Parliament House
  • North Harbour Stadium
  • Ohaaki Power Station
  • Ohakune Carrot
  • Otira Viaduct
  • Rakaia Bridges (road and rail)
  • Rugby League Park
  • Skyline Queenstown
  • Sugarloaf Transmitter
  • Taiaroa Head Lighthouse
  • Taramakau Road-Rail Bridge
  • Tekapo A Power Station
  • The Church of Good Shepherd
  • The Remarkables Ski Area
  • Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse
  • Titahi Bay Transmitter
  • Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter
  • TSS Earnslaw, Lake Wakatipu
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  • Wellington Regional Stadium & Railway Station.